HMRC reports 250,000 tax scams in spring alone – here’s how to protect yourself against fraud

Following the January Self Assessment deadline, news that you’re due a tax rebate is often welcome – but watch out for fraudsters, HMRC warns.

A lot of HMRC’s contact with taxpayers comes in the months after they file their Self Assessment tax return.

HMRC also processes tax rebates in April and May. But criminals have caught on – and the tax authority says it saw a huge number of scams this time last year.

It’s now warning vulnerable people (including young adults with less knowledge of the tax system) to be “especially vigilant”.

Does this sound familiar?

This is what’s known as a phishing attack and unfortunately it’s very common. It’s where a scammer pretends to be someone trustworthy in order to steal sensitive information, like bank details.

In HMRC’s case, the scammers often target people with the promise of a tax refund via text or email. If the victim clicks the link, they’ll be taken to a legitimate-looking (but fake) government website. Then the victim will be asked to enter sensitive information, ultimately giving fraudsters access to their bank account.

We’ve reported on HMRC scams before – check out six to be aware of.

Last spring there were nearly 2,500 scams a day

HMRC highlights March, April and May as one of the most active periods for scammers. In spring 2018 HMRC received:

  • nearly 250,000 reports of phishing (which HMRC says is around 2,500 scams a day)
  • 6,000 requests to have phishing websites deactivated
  • and in the 12 months to February 2019, HMRC got 73,382 reports of suspicious HMRC phone calls

Head of Customer Services at HMRC, Angela MacDonald, said: “HMRC is currently shutting down hundreds of phishing sites a month. If you receive one of these emails or texts, don’t respond and report it to HMRC so that more online criminals are stopped in their tracks.”

And Katy Worobec of Take Five, a campaign that advises on protection against financial fraud, said: “If you have paid too much tax, HMRC will issue the repayment automatically either direct into your bank account or if you have indicated on your tax return there is no bank account then HMRC will send you a cheque.”

How to protect yourself against a scam

HMRC says that young people are a particularly easy target, because they manage a lot of their affairs on their smartphone – and they might not have as much knowledge of the tax system. Fraudsters also target the elderly and the vulnerable.

A victim, known as John, told the BBC that he’d fallen for a scam after waking up “bleary eyed” to a message from ‘InfoHM’ promising him a tax refund: “The excitement of what my tax refund would be overwhelmed my normally pretty rational brain.”

So, it’s important to stay on your guard. HMRC says they’ll never contact you out of the blue to ask for sensitive information, and won’t text or email to tell you about a refund. Here are HMRC’s top tips:

  • don’t give out private information, reply to text messages, download attachments or click on links in emails you weren’t expecting
  • be sure to take action by forwarding suspicious HMRC emails and details of suspicious calls to [email protected] and texts to 60599. If you’ve lost money contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or use their online fraud reporting tool
  • check gov.uk for information on how to avoid and report scams and recognise genuine HMRC contact
  • check the examples in this guide if you think you’ve received a bogus message, to see if it looks similar

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